Two minutes, twice a day
Brushing your teeth might seem like a boring and time-consuming task, but the importance of doing so should not be overlooked.
Brushing removes the food and plaque that builds up over the course of the day.
But, just how long and how often should you brush your teeth?
Twice a day for 2 minutes.
This is the general advice given in some of the largest countries in the world.
Both the American Dental Association here in the US and the NHS in the UK advise this approach.
Brushing for 2 minutes, twice a day with the correct brushing technique will in most instances ensure you have generally good oral health.
You should also clean the spaces between your teeth that a toothbrush cannot reach every day too. Some 40% of your tooth surface is missed with regular brushing.
Keep reading for more information.
Differing research and opinion
Globally the research and recommendations vary.
In 2014, UCL researchers, Dr John Wainwright and Prof Aubrey Sheiham, analyzed 66 different sources of advice from around the world. Their findings were published in the British Dental Journal.
Most recommendations were for cleaning the teeth twice a day, but when it came to stating how long to brush, 26 sources advised brushing for 2 minutes, 12 for 2-3 minutes and 2 recommended 3 minutes of brushing.
In Korea for example, they are encouraged to brush 3 times a day for 3 minutes. Dentists and the Korean Dental Association call it the 3-3-3 approach (3 times a day for 3 minutes within 3 minutes of eating).
A 2017 study concluded that Korean adults who are encouraged to brush three times a day for at least three minutes had lower incidences of periodontal disease than Americans and Australians who are taught to brush twice a day.
How many times a day should you brush your teeth?
2 times a day is how often you should brush your teeth.
A number of research pieces including that by Menzies Health Institute Queensland and School of Dentistry and Oral Health has shown that brushing twice-daily is optimal for reducing the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and recession.
Despite the fact that within the USA and the UK the general consensus and advice is for 2 minutes twice a day, research completed by the Academy of General Dentistry found that the average American brushes their teeth for 45 to 70 seconds per day. That is less than half the recommended time.
Further data suggest 3 out of 4 millennials only brush their teeth once a day.
It is not clear when in the day the average American is brushing their teeth.
Why does this matter?
Well, although the ADA does not specifically state such, it is the belief that brushing at night, before bed is the most important time of the day.
Frankly, twice a day at any time is better than only once a day, but brushing before bed ensures people remove the food and plaque that has built up during the day.
At night, you have less saliva and your tongue moves less overnight. This means less natural protection for the teeth and gums compared to the daytime.
During the day your mouth produces more saliva provides a natural barrier to decay causing bacteria. The movement of your tongue also helps remove bacteria and food naturally.
How long should I brush for?
2 minutes is how long you should brush your teeth for.
For the average person, this is adequate time to remove the majority of plaque, bacteria, and debris needed to maintain healthy teeth, gums and mouth.
This is not necessarily appropriate for everyone and there is the need to consider personal circumstances and lifestyles, no 2 people are necessarily the same. Your dental professional will generally advise if your circumstances are different.
Individuals with an increased risk of gum disease or tooth decay may be advised by dental professionals to brush for longer or take extra steps when brushing to ensure optimum dental health. Those with limited dexterity or control may also have extra recommendations from their dentist. It is about taking the time that is appropriate for you to get your teeth clean, be that 2 or 5 minutes.
The Journal of Dental Hygiene in 2009 published results of a study that confirmed that plaque removal increased with brushing time and that 2 minutes should be the minimum recommended time, but dental professionals should continue to coach the correct brushing technique.
Detailed analysis showed that brushing for 180 seconds (3 minutes) removed 55% more plaque than brushing for 30 seconds. Brushing for 120 seconds (2 minutes) removed 26% more plaque than brushing for 45 seconds.
Thus, there is evidence to suggest that actually brushing for longer than the 2 minutes advised by the ADA and NHS is beneficial. In the meantime, the two minute goal is ultimately a balance and aims to encourage us to meet a minimum standard.
What technique should I use?
There must be consideration for using the right brushing technique too. By applying the correct technique you improve your chances of effectively removing plaque and bacteria. See our post on how to brush your teeth properly for detailed instructions.
The ADA demonstrate what they consider to be the correct technique in the following video.
This correct brushing technique is something that Wainright and Sheihams research picked up on. They found that 6 different techniques were actually being offered and that the unacceptably large diversity in recommendations on what tooth brushing method to use should concern the dental profession.
The ADA acknowledges that there are a number of techniques for brushing teeth, any of which may have advantages depending on a patient’s particular needs.
But, regardless of the technique used, brushing should touch upon all surfaces—inner, outer and chewing.
Key tips for looking after your teeth
When it comes to looking after your teeth, the most important thing is to create a regular cleaning habit following these steps:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. See our list of dentist recommended toothpastes
- Brush for 2 minutes each time, using an electric toothbrush or a manual toothbrush
- Use the correct brushing technique
- Spit after brushing, don’t rinse with mouthwash or water
- Clean between the teeth once a day, with interdental brushes, floss or a water flosser